| Red Flag at Indy
Mt. Elbert and South Elbert:
December 28, 2010
Peaks: Mt. Elbert, “South Mt. Elbert”
Route: East Ridge, from S. Mt. Elbert TH off 82
Date: December 28, 2010
Length: About 15 miles RT
Vertical: About 6000 feet
Ascent Party: Brad, Adam, Scott, Steve, Eric, Sean, Jim
Eric Sanguisa tops out on Mt Elbert in preparation for his third 14er ski descent.
Well, the Winter Solstice came, and it snowed.
As one of my favorite clairvoyant alpinists prognosticated about two weeks before the event:
“Many times over the years, conditions seem to be setting up nicely for that first week of winter when many folks save time off to take advantage of them. Then, right on cue, smacko!” (-KPN)
How could he be so right... Some routes went from “anything goes” to “extreme avalanche danger” in a day. So what to do?
Elbert is usually a reasonable consideration when the red flag is out in winter. Besides, while I’d been up in late Fall, and one day after Spring Equinox, I’d still needed an excuse for a "winter" ascent. Along came Brad with a very convenient excuse for a midweek 14er.
Award-winning aspen grace the approach to Mt. Elbert.
Sean signed on from our local rock climbing group, and Eric planned for his third 14er ski descent. Eric, just 16, is looking for some new excitement after finishing the 14ers this past summer, and wants to ski them all for his next accomplishment. The three of us met in Springs at 6:00 am and headed for the Elbert Forebay (“South Elbert”) Trailhead, off Hwy 82. Brad and his gang would be getting started a bit earlier. We planned to meet near treeline.
Eric and Sean on the 4wd road.
The TH is paved to the parking lot. In summer you can drive the 4wd road. Apparently Scott gave it a try but not for long, wisely turning back after a hundred yards to park in the paved, plowed lot, where we got started.
Sean was purdy durn fast, setting a warm pace to catch the other half of the group by the alpine.
The views of Mt. Elbert from the last two meadows are breathtaking on a bluebird day.
Ah, right on time, the rest of the gang – Steve, Scott, Brad, and Adam. We now have a quorum, with alpinists ranging from 16-63. And the guys on either end of that age spectrum are the 14er completers!
Hey, Jim, I’ll take your picture. OK, let me take my hat off.
Turns out we didn’t need snowshoes – at least, for much of the way. There were a few places I was bemoaning the fact that we’d ditched them down low – but mostly, the track was solid.
Once in the upper alpine, we had plenty of scrubbed off ridge. Steve, Scott, Sean, and I took the lead. We had tentative plans to get Bull Hill and South Elbert as well, though we knew the belated start would mean we might not have time.
I love the views of the Elbert Forebay Lakes and looking out to the east and southeast. We were certainly blessed with a gorgeous day.
There were zero concerns for avalanche in the alpine, and the entire east ridge route from the TH appeared to be solidly stable. However, we were later to find evidence of recent natural release on northeast aspects; exactly as forecast.
Looking roughly south from the summit of Mt. Elbert.
Scott treks up…
…And arrives at the summit. Soon to be followed by Steve and Sean. We decide to skip Bull Hill, but get South Elbert. Scott and Sean send Steve and me on scouting detail, while they wait on Brad, Adam, and Eric. We decide to stay paired at minimum, and have a set plan, as Steve and I push on for South Elbert.
Steve crosses the 13880 saddle over to South Elbert.
South Elbert looks like a snap. Turns out it takes nearly 45 minutes one way, putting us a little behind schedule. The plan is to be out of the alpine by dark. We have a gorgeous weather window and lots of clothes and headlamps, so we feel good about a little extra credit ridge travel today.
Mt. Elbert, as seen from “South Mt. Elbert.”
The wind picks up. A couple of cold turkeys pose for a quick summit shot.
Steve’s a heck of a partner. Fast, efficient, skilled, and friendly as all get out. Steve, looking forward to doing more together. It was a pleasure meeting you!
La Plata Peak, seen from South Elbert.
The southeast ridge of Bull Hill sports one of those recent NE aspect natural releases, seen at lower right center.
Another look at Elbert from South.
Steve making way across the saddle with Bull Hill off to the left.
As we re-ascend Elbert’s south side, we’re certain the guys have headed down, and nearly take the cutoff to the right below the summit, to get to the east ridge. However, the plan included the possibility that they’d be waiting for us on the summit, so we decide to sweep. Legs now whimpering more than quietly, our weary mood perks up as we see the gang waving us on from the summit.
We arrive in time to catch Eric just cresting the top.
We prepare to descend, still on schedule for making the trees by dark. Of course, we know Eric will be partying at the car about the time we’re cursing the post-holing in the upper sub-alpine. There is a method to ski madness.
Meanwhile, the rest of us slog down. The snow is actually good for boot-glissading, so we make pretty quick work of the alpine.
Finally headed home, or at least to the cars. Why is the way down always three times the distance?
We’re blessed with gorgeous alpenglow.
Scott stops to take in the early evening beauty.
Time to get out the headlamps. Ah….Winter!
Thanks, Gents, for another great bluebird day in the alpine... And congrats, Eric, on your third 14er ski descent.
Thanks for reading. Here's wishing all of us a safe and happy New Year!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):